Last week, I watched the interview of the mother/daughter Shriver/Kennedy tandem on Oprah. It was a bizarre experience….
As a rule, I don’t have a lot of patience for the Oprah Winfrey show. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the lady for the splendid career she carved out for herself, but she is just not my cup of tea (or Java, depending on the time of day).
After watching the excellent BCC television series “The Kumars at number 42”, I was just too lazy to zap on and watched the “first ever” interview with the governor of California’s wife and mother-in-law: Maria and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Since both of them are bright and talented women and witnesses up close and personal some of the most significant moments in recent history, I expected some original insights. What I got was a rerun of the “I love Lucy” show, sans wit.
Oprah announced Maria and immediately went into her star struck gushing mode.
The girls hugged each other, admired each other’s hairdo and promoted Maria’s latest fruit of the pen with almost indecent haste.
Maria looked like she just came from a funeral – long sleeved, sequined 50s-style dress that looked like it came from Lucy’s wardrobe.
Maria started talking about her upbringing - everything the Shrivers did and do is about public service. So instead of talking about school, culture, history, the dinner table topic was “how to make the world a better place”.
Unsuspected guests were coerced into answering the pater familias’ favorite question: “What are you going to do to make a difference?” while looking at pictures of starving children in Africa, disabled kids, and children living in institutions. Poor Oprah was so intimidated that she took refuge in a closet. (Before you get any ideas, the reason that Oprah isn’t married had nothing to do with her coming out of the before mentioned cupboard. It also didn’t have a traumatic effect on her later development – just check how the Harpo Corporation is doing and you get my point).
Maria went on informing the gullible audience that the mater familias would place a piggy bank in the center of the dining room table once a week and serve her offspring cereal for dinner so they could donate what they would have spent on food that night to the poor. Ah the things the megarich do for the paupers…it brings tears to your eyes, especially since Maria informed
Mummy that they just loved eating cereal, which somehow strikes me as completely missing the aim of the exercise.
Maria kept emphasizing that their lives were never about “things,” only ideas. Easy to do when you are not distracted by the daily gritty life that the rest of us are struggling with.
Eunice came on stage as well, better dressed than her daughter and still in possession of her think Kennedy hair.
After more hugs and touchy stuff, Maria and Eunice told Oprah that they have never, ever, had a single fight. Yeah, and Al Gore invented the Internet.
Sounding a lot like Bush, they harped on about Family Values. Eunice said how important it is for family members to eat dinner together every night. “When I was growing up, I never saw my parents go out to dinner in a restaurant once in our whole life.”
Of course not, Rose stayed home and Joe was having a love fest with Gloria Swanson.
The Shriver-Schwarzenegger home is uncannily similar. Maria is the disciplinarian with her kids about going to church (mandatory Mass every week), having good manners and doing homework. Since the kids don’t have their own phones, Maria monitors every call. She happily announced that she is also trying to get access to their emails, which is trickier. Her 13-year old daughter, seated in the audience, threw her an “over my dead body” look. The girl has her father’s looks (enough said), but came across as a very sensible, grounded kid. I predict that she will be a handful.
Arnold was the next topic. Maria informed the masses that he is insanely strict when it comes to keeping the house clean, turning the lights off, and doing laundry. “He will call me from the capitol and ask, “Have they done the laundry?” Maria told Oprah. “Even worse, if the kids leave clothes on the floor, Arnold will scoop up the garment and throw it into the fire. Other items he finds out of place he’ll just hide around the house and never return. The Schwarzenegger kid confirmed this: “If you open up a cabinet, behind pots and pans, you'll find, like, a pair of shoes or something.”
Arnold also unscrews light bulbs when the kids leave the lights on, due to the energy crisis. So he tries to teach his brood about saving energy, but makes no bones about burning expensive clothes and shoes. Go figure.
Oprah also touched on the issue of Arnold running for president. Maria is (for now) dead-set against it. “I want him home” she announced forcefully. Considering their present living arrangements (he resides in Sacramento; they see each other once a week) and Schwarzenegger’s history of sexual escapades, I can’t blame her.
It is funny how all the Kennedy women (Rose, Ethel, Jacky, Maria) follow the same pattern: no matter how clever, educated and strong they are, they serve and obey their dominant spouses. Being staunch Catholics, divorce is out of the question.
Even Eunice, a talented campaigner for her brothers, who could have been a decent president if only given half the chance, is not only happy with her daughter giving up her own career, but even told her that she should have dropped the Shriver family name and go for Schwarzenegger. Her daughter correctly pointed out that she refers to herself as Eunice Kennedy Shriver. This issue was not pursued – Oprah probably didn’t want to start the first ever mother-daughter fight. Pity.
All in all, it the whole episode gave me a feeling of Lucy meets the Stepford Wives.
And about Arnold running for president, let’s keep our fingers crossed that the Constitution will remain unchanged – let’s not forget what happened the last time an Austrian became the leader of another country……